Tagged: Dow

Dow

"Jude Finisterra" (Andy Bichlbaum) and Mike Bonanno addressed the Dow Board at Dow's May 12, 2005 Annual General Meeting. Here's the story.

 

Dow wasn't taking any chances at this year's Annual General Meeting (AGM). For the first time in Dow's existence, each and every shareholder was being searched on entry. A phalanx of guards had been hired, and a battery of eight metal detectors were set up at the entrance to the Midland, Michigan Center for the Arts. Every one of the two thousand shareholders who would show up had to empty pockets, check cellphones, get wanded. Old ladies had to let guards rifle through their purses.(Were Homeland Security agents present as well? Or were their lapel pins just primitive communication devices? You decide.)

 

For the first time ever, even press weren't allowed in with recording devices; they stood outside, amazed at being barred, amazed afterwards at the Dow shareholders' muteness about what had transpired. What was all this about? Why the paranoia?

 

John, who was attending the meeting with Mike and Andy of the Yes Men, scouted the scene and returned to the car to explain the dire security situation. All gizmos went back in their bags: Andy took off his hastily fashioned neck-tie camera and wireless transmitter; Mike removed his neck-brace camera, wireless transmitter, camera deck. We'd known there'd be no recording devices allowed, but we hadn't thought they'd have mobilized so much technology to enforce the rule.

 

Now we were ready to pass through the guards and metal detectors. Andy tossed his cellphone, coins, and "golden skeleton" keychain into the dish before passing through. He still beeped. Oh well: he tossed in the little voice recorder he thought he'd be able to smuggle through; he'd even taken out the batteries and handed them to John for safe keeping. The damn thing still beeped! A thorough frisking and wanding was in order.

 

Somehow, though, only his cell phone was taken by a Dow guard, in case it had a camera function; the voice recorder remained in the dish. Andy took it back after his frisking, got the batteries from John in the bathroom and reinserted them.

 

It was soon very clear that many of the guards knew who we were. "Loved your movie," one of them pointedly said to Mike as we entered the meeting.

 

It suddenly occurred to us that we just might be the cause of all this nonsense. After all, we had caused their stock to lose billions in 20 minutes.... Dow was legally required to let us into the meeting since we were officially speaking on behalf of some actual shareholders, but they must have resented the extra expense of having to provide entertainment for guards.

 

The meeting was every bit as dull as one might expect. We sat with about two thousand others at the lovely Midland Center for the Arts, facing a row of chairs at which the Dow board were seated. Chair of the Board William S. Stavropoulos officiated. He began by advising shareholders to vote against a resolution discouraging Dow's continuing emphasis on the production of toxic materials. Then CEO Andrew Liveris presented a Powerpoint presentation. Dow is number 34 on the fortune 500. That's bigger than Microsoft! Dow's profits are up 26% in the first quarter. That's worth more than a billion! Dow is doing really, really great! Finally, Liveris explained that sustainability is a "cornerstone" of Dow's business. Towards that end, they are supporting Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures society! Jean-Michel is the son of Jacques Cousteau! Jacques Cousteau meant a tremendous amount for the world's oceans! Dow's proud to be such a good corporate citizen!

 

Then the votes were counted. (Really the votes had already been counted. Not a soul raised a hand; the voting part was just ritual.) 43 million shares voted to consider the effects of toxic chemicals, 500 million shares against. Another example of Dow's trademark "cornerstone" sustainability. But as Cousteau might say, tell it to the fish.

 

The regular meeting was adjourned, but everyone stuck around for the SEC-mandated question-and-answer period. This year, questions were limited to two minutes rather than the usual three.

 

In an unprecedented move, Stavropoulos tried to pre-empt questions about Bhopal by giving a lengthy lecture on the subject. The lecture was similar to what one can read on Dow's website, with some unusual details. For one thing, he proudly noted that Dow has generously funded a "state-of-the-art museum [sic] for the victims" of Bhopal. He also addressed the question of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson's criminality by noting that the US government hasn't extradited him to India, where he's wanted - so it must be okay!

 

Stavropoulos's attention to Bhopal was extraordinary, considering that the company insists it bears no responsibility, and considering that it has successfully repelled a shareholder resolution on the matter and faces no concrete threat on the issue. In essence, Stavropoulos stood there for a full ten minutes exclaiming "Out, damn spot!" before 2000 shareholders, for no apparent reason.

 

John noted afterwards that Stavropoulos seemed to be addressing each of the points that "Jude Finisterra" had made as Dow representative in December. At first Andy and Mike were incredulous - but the attention to Anderson's extradition did seem odd, come to think of it.... And if all the unprecedented security did have something to do with us, then why not this?

 

A series of shareholders stood up and made comments. Some talked about local dioxin contamination around Midland's Titabawasee River. A representative from Amnesty International discussed Dow's role in Bhopal as a human rights problem. And several other shareholder groups, including some groups of nuns, spoke on issues ranging from genetically modified crops to long-term contamination of Midland's Tittibawassee river.

 

Then it was Andy's turn at the microphone. He had written his name down on the speaker card as "Jude Finisterra," which is what the usher called out. "Our next question is from Jude Finisterra, a proxy," she said. "The topic is windfall profits."

 

"Hello Bill, shareholders," "Jude" said. "We made an incredible $1.35 billion this quarter. That's really terrific. But you know, for most of us, that'll just mean a new set of golf clubs. I for one would forego my golf clubs this year to do something useful instead - like finally cleaning up the Bhopal plant site, or funding the new clinic there.

 

"Bill, will you use Dow's first-quarter profits to finally clean up Bhopal?" Dow Chairman Bill Stavropoulos responded to "Finisterra's" suggestion with a curt dismissal.

 

Then it was Mike's turn. He struggled to the microphone in his neck brace. As soon as he opened his mouth, it was clear this guy was no Jude Finisterra!

 

"Great job on the profits! I applaud your efforts." Mike started clapping. Eight times, while thousands sat silently watching. He finally gave up and resumed. "Great profits. Now I wanna see you use them to go after some of the creeps who are tarnishing Dow's good name! I'm looking around and most of the questions are from people who don't like Dow. Let's do something about that. We need to get aggressive!

 

"Of course you can’t exactly broadside a bunch of nuns with a twenty-gun shoot, and you can't just kick a disabled kid in the head - but at least you could take care of hooligans, like that guy who went on the TV news to announce that Dow was liquidating Union Carbide. That made a serious stock bounce, and I for one was freaked out! I'll bet a lot of you were! So, Mr. Stavropoulos, are you going after that criminal? And if not, why not?"

 

Stavropoulos said one brief sentence in response: "If you can tell us who that guy is. Next question?" (At least one reporter in attendance didn't realize the guy in the neck brace wasn't an authentic, angry Dow shareholder.)

 

Leaving the Midland Center for the Arts, we're scrutinized by men on the roof with binoculars. Still not paranoid, we decide to go do some Dow tourism, and head over to the main Dow complex on Saginaw Road. We pull into one area and take pictures of a lovely sign.

 

Within seconds up pull four or five Dow security cars, followed by a supervisor (with a Homeland Security lapel pin). "We have the Yes Men in the Toyota," one of them radios in. Soon the real police arrive, followed by one of the Dow "Public Affairs" men we'd seen at the Center for the Arts. "What's your policy?" one of the policemen asks the Public Affairs guy.

 

"Detonation," we briefly imagine the Dow guy will say, and that will be that. But they let us go after calling in our driver's license numbers. Perhaps they've had enough procedural hassles for a day...

 

Click for press release

 
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On April 28, 2005, at a London banking conference to which they had accidentally been invited because of their satirical website, "Dow representative" Erastus Hamm unveiled "Acceptable Risk," a Dow industry standard for determining how many deaths are acceptable when achieving large profits. The bankers enthusiastically applauded the lecture, which described several industrial crimes, including IBM's sale of technology to the Nazis for use in identifying Jews, as "golden skeletons" - i.e. skeletons in the closet, but lucrative and therefore acceptable ones.

 

Several of the bankers in attendance then signed up for licenses for the "Acceptable Risk Calculator" and even posed with Acceptable Risk mascot "Gilda, the golden skeleton in the closet," for photos.

 

If "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR) and other market forces were all that set limits on corporate behavior, what would constitute "acceptable risk"?

 

Full lecture and photos

Video of Gilda unveiling

Try out the Acceptable Risk Calculator

May 2 announcement

May 12 press release

 
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(See also this more complete account, complete with a story of fear and trembling and censorship.)

On November 29, 2004, an email comes in to DowEthics.com: BBC World Television wants a Dow representative to discuss the company's position on the 1984 Bhopal tragedy on this, its 20th anniversary.

Knowing Dow's history of gross negligence on this matter, we think it unlikely they will send a representative themselves—and if they do, he or she will likely only reiterate the old nonsense yet again, which will be depressing for all concerned and certainly won't help get press for the issue in the US. Yes, we'd better just do their PR for them.

Since we can't possibly afford to go to London with our pathetic American dollars, we ask to be booked in a studio in Paris, where Andy is living. No problem. Mr. Jude (patron saint of the impossible) Finisterra (earth's end) becomes Dow's official spokesperson.

What to do with the five or so minutes he'll be allotted? We consider embodying the psychopathic monster that is Dow by explaining in frank terms how they (a) don't give a rat's ass about the people of Bhopal and (b) wouldn't do anything to help them even if they did. Which they don't. This would be familiar territory for Andy: he did something similar representing the WTO on CNBC's Marketwrap. But no one seemed to notice it had happened, and no press resulted. The idea this time being to get coverage of the anniversary in the US—where most people don't even know what Bhopal was—we rule out this angle.

Instead we settle on the impossible, Jude announcing a radical new direction for the company, one in which Dow takes full responsibility for the disaster. We will lay out a straightforward ethical path for Dow to follow to compensate the victims, clean up the plant site, and otherwise help make amends for the worst industrial disaster in history. It will be impossible for Dow not to react in some way, which should generate tons of press.

There are some risks to this approach. It could offer false hope—or rather, false certainty—to people who have suffered 20 years of false hopes that Dow and Union Carbide would do the right thing. But all hopes are false until they're realized, and what's an hour of false hope to 20 years of unrealized ones? If it works, this could focus a great deal of media attention on the issue, especially in the US, where the Bhopal anniversary has often gone completely unnoticed. Who knows—it could even somehow force Dow's hand.

After all, the real hoax here is Dow's claim that they can't do anything to help. They have conned the world into thinking they can't end the crisis, when in fact it would be quite simple. What would it cost to clean up the Bhopal plant site, which continues to poison the water people drink, causing an estimated one death per day?

We decide to show how another world is possible, and to direct any questions about false hopes for justice in Bhopal directly to Dow. (See also our FAQ.)

Another problem we anticipate is that this could result in some backlash for the BBC. This is bothersome, because they have covered Bhopal very well, infinitely better than what we're used to in the US. We would much rather hoax CBS, ABC, NBC, or Fox, but none of those could give that rat's ass about Bhopal, and so none of those has approached us.

In any case, it didn't seem to hurt CNBC when "Granwyth Hulatberi" appeared as WTO spokesperson. It was a simple mistake, and one that anyone could make. Intelligent people will not question the excellence of BBC's overall coverage because of an unavoidable error, especially if it is caught quickly and provides for some interesting discussion that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

On the day of the interview, we wake up early and put on our thrift-store suits. Andy nervously runs through his answers once more while Mike fumbles with cameras. A crowded metro ride later, we arrive at the BBC's Paris studio. "Jude" is seated in front of a green screen and waits.

At 9am GMT, Dow's spokesperson appears live on the BBC World Service in front of the Eiffel Tower. He is ecstatic to make the announcement: Dow will accept full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, and has a $12 billion dollar plan to compensate the victims and remediate the site. (Dow will raise the $12 billion by liquidating Union Carbide, which cost them that much to acquire.) Also, to provide a sense of closure to the victims, Dow will push for the extradition of Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide CEO, to India, which he fled following his arrest 20 years ago on multiple homicide charges. (Watch the broadcast.)

When it's over, the studio technician is happy about what she has heard. "What a nice thing to announce," she says.

"I wouldn't work for Dow if I didn't believe in it," replies Andy matter-of-factly.

We expect the story to be retracted immediately, but Dow takes two hours to notice that alas and alack, it's done the right thing. The full interview therefore runs twice, and for two hours the story is the top item on news.google.com. CNN reports a Dow stock loss of 2 billion dollars on the German exchange. After Dow notes emphatically that it is not in fact going to do right by those non-shareholders in Bhopal, the retraction remains the top Google story for the rest of the day.

Back at Andy's apartment, we help Dow express itself more fully by mailing out a more formal retraction: "Dow will NOT commit ANY funds to compensate and treat 120,000 Bhopal residents who require lifelong care.... Dow will NOT remediate (clean up) the Bhopal plant site.... Dow's sole and unique responsibility is to its shareholders, and Dow CANNOT do anything that goes against its bottom line unless forced to by law." For a while, this—as reprinted in Men's News Daily, a reactionary drivel bucket that doesn't realize our Dow release is fake, and doesn't mind what it says—becomes the top story on news.google.com.

"Whatever be the circumstances under which the news was aired, we will get $12 billion from Dow sooner than later," one Bhopali activist is quoted as saying. But the "false hope" question does come up in some articles, especially in the UK. Much as we try to convince ourselves it was worth it, we cannot get rid of the nagging doubt. Did we deeply upset many Bhopalis? If so, we want to apologize. We were trying to show that another world is possible....

We're also bothered that the BBC has taken the fall, and that this has somehow called the BBC's credibility into question. It shouldn't. The BBC, as soon as Dow finally noticed that "Jude Finisterra" wasn't theirs, promptly and prominently retracted the story. There was no net misinformation. In fact there was significantly more information as a result, since more people knew about Bhopal and Dow, especially in the US.

The real credibility problem is when networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox, or papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post (and most of the rest), systematically and for months on end unquestioningly mouth the assertions of a lying, scheming crook of a president—about WMDs, for example. It is thanks to these well-amplified lies that the crook in question was able to wage a war with 100,000 civilian casualties on a country that very clearly posed zero threat. At least the Times and the Post issued quiet, late apologies and mea culpas. Not enough: for such a monumental failure of journalism, the American media should undergo a thorough examination and restructuring. At the very least, their owners and editors should have been required to explain to a court why big corporations should be allowed to own so much noise. Which, as the episode proves, they shouldn't be.

Throughout the day, we are deluged with email, almost all of it positive. Later, the BBC calls again: they want us back at the studio. Yeah, right! No, really—they want us on for another show, to talk about what has happened. Against our better judgment we go—and arrive to find four smiling staffers. "Where are the cops?" Andy asks, and the staffers actually laugh.

Another interview on Channel 4 (smaller download here), and the day is finally over. Now all we can do is wait to see how it all pans out. Will our fondest hopes be realized—will Dow be forced to concede? Or will the people of Bhopal have to wait twenty more years?

All we know if that at least for today, this 20th anniversary of the catastrophe, news about Bhopal and Dow is front and center in the US news. And on this most somber of days, Dow has been forced to show, by its curt refusal to do anything, just what "corporate social responsibility" really means.

Visit Bhopal.net to help keep pressure on Dow, or Bhopal.org to help provide much-needed medical help to the people of Bhopal.

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On Dec. 3, 2002, the eighteenth anniversary of the Union Carbide (i.e. Dow) disaster at Bhopal, a press release was sent out by Dow-Chemical.com, telling Dow's story more honestly than Dow ever does.

 

It explained why Dow (and Union Carbide) have always refused to take responsibility for the disaster, and have never seen fit to offer any more than $500 compensation per victim. Response was overwhelming.

 

Then, on Dec. 4, after business hours and when nobody was on hand to deal with it, Verio shut down the entire Thing.net network, which hosts innumerable activist, artist, and other websites and bulletin boards (as well as Dow-Chemical.com). Verio did this in response to the DMCA notice that they had received the day before. (This has happened before.* Also see this article of what DMCA tends to mean for small ISPs like Thing.net.)

 

Finally, on Dec. 6, mysteriously, it suddenly turned out that Dow-Chemical.com belonged to Dow! (See Gandi.net whoisresults.) How did this happen?

 

Well, when we'd registered Dow-Chemical.com with Gandi.net about two weeks before, we'd thought it would be really funny to put down James Parker, son of the Dow CEO, as owner of the domain. We even put down Parker's real home address! Funny, right?

 

Yes! And on Dec. 4, James Parker himself, with the help of Dow lawyers, sent a xerox of his driver's license and a letter by FedEx to Gandi.net, saying, basically, "This domain belongs to me. See, that's my home address, too. Give it to me!" According to the rules of ICANN, Parker was correct, and Gandi.net had no legal choice but to hand it over. Very creative work there, Jimmy!** (Termination notice here.)

 

In any case, just in case Dow thought such heavy-handed tactics would work, we released Reamweaver, making it much easier to copy and alter websites on the fly.

 

*The same thing happened back in the Toywar, when eToys issued a DMCA to Verio, and Verio shut down the whole Thing.net network--but only for 3 hours. The WTO also issued a DMCA to Verio regarding GATT.org about a year ago, but Verio did nothing, and stated that the DMCA was not relevant to it, since it was not Verio that was the host, but merely the upstream provider. Score on the Verio esteem-meter: WTO 0; eToys 3 [hours network down]; Dow 16 [hours network down].

 

**It's really funny, but also really awful how Dow, the son of Dow, and Verio can just put sooooo much energy and creativity into making sure this little image problem gets minimized, whereas they can't possibly be bothered to do something about the basic problem they're faced with: DEAD PEOPLE. SICK PEOPLE. TOXIC MESS.

 

 

By buying Union Carbide, Dow acquired Union Carbide's liability and responsibility, in a legal sense, and in a common-sense sense. And yet they absolutely refuse to accept it: "What we cannot and will not do... is accept responsibility for the Bhopal accident" (November 28, 2002 memo previously posted on Dow).

 

Dow is using every trick in the books to squeak by—just like it did with our "son of Dow" goof—and is letting Bhopal rot in the meantime.

 

The problem here isn't just one of principle: it also means that eighteen years later, the Bhopal site remains contaminated, and no one accepts the responsibility for cleaning it up. Dow would rather wipe an entire activist and artistic network right off the face of the internet, weasel their way into ownership of a critical website, etc., instead of just doing the right thing and dealing with Bhopal.

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